Communication for public health and media
Effective communication about eating disorders is key to bringing about improvements in awareness, prevention, early identification and initial response through its influence on social norms, beliefs, behaviours, and relationships.
Any communication about eating disorders should be underpinned by a commitment to the reduction of risk factors for eating disorders, the development of personal, relational and community resilience, the promotion of self-efficacy, early identification and help seeking behaviour, and work to reduce negative stigma associated with disordered eating, eating disorders and body diversity.
Strategies and key messages
Research shows that messages are more effective when:
They are consistent across different channels and platforms
They are communicated via a variety of channels/platforms
Key messages and communications about eating disorders should:
Be developmentally appropriate for the intended audience and their age
- Be reviewed for ambiguity and possible risk of harm
Promote understanding of eating disorders as serious, complex illnesses, not a lifestyle choice
Provide accurate, evidence-based information
Assist people in making appropriate decisions about seeking help
Be inclusive and representative of diverse gender identities, cultural groups and age groups (unless specifically addressing a single target audience)
Be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure the continuing safety and appropriateness of content
For further information, please read the Guidelines on reporting and portrayal of eating disorders: A Mindframe resource for communicators.
Key messages and communications about eating disorders should not:
Describe details of how to engage in eating disorder behaviours
Use or provide information about personal measurements in relation to people who have experienced an eating disorder (e.g. weight, amount of exercise, number of hospital admissions)
Normalise or glamorise eating disorder behaviours
Stigmatise eating disorder behaviours
Use judgmental, critical or value-laden language
Use fear, stigma or other ‘scare tactics’ to motivate or coerce people to act
Communicating with young people
Adolescence through to early adulthood is the highest risk period for developing an eating disorder. This is a time of great change biologically, physically, socially, and psychologically. Young people are also vulnerable to social and societal pressures, all of which can impact their capacity to cope with stress and increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder. Adolescents are a key audience for communication.
Research shows that adolescents are confused about eating disorders. Young people recognise that eating disorders are potentially harmful; however, they also accept ‘body obsession’ and dieting as normal parts of growing up .
To communicate effectively with young people, communication avenues and forms must match what is known about the way young people receive, absorb, accept and respond to information.
Messages for young people should:
Emphasise positive health behaviours
Seek to build self-esteem and self-determination
Reduce perfectionism and the internalisation of unrealistic body ideals
Support the development of media literacy
- For more information on how to promote positive body image, click here.
Resources for young people
Communicating with families
Parents and extended family members are instrumental in providing early education and modelling around health and wellbeing. The messages that families share about food, eating and body diversity can protect young people from developing eating disorders, or increase their risk.
Parents and families can support their children by reinforcing appropriate messages, and supporting their child to challenge and engage in critical reflection around inappropriate messages they are exposed to through traditional media, social media and peers.
When communicating about eating disorders to families and parents, the following should be noted:
Messages for families, carers and friends should:
Enhance the capacity for families, friends and communities to recognise potential risk factors for eating disorders
Assist families and other supports to identify symptoms and encourage help-seeking
Explain the facts about eating disorders and provide information about how to access treatment and support
Help parents and families to model and teach their children to develop a flexible relationship with food, eating and their bodies and may require information and resources to help them do this
Validate that parents and carers may have negative body image themselves and encourage support seeking to meet their own needs and their needs as role models and caregivers.
Resources for families, carers and friends
Communicating with schools and other key settings
Educational settings play an important role in the education and development of young people, making this a prime setting for reducing eating disorder risk in young people by deliver positive messaging about body diversity and experience, flexible eating and physical activity.
Schools can generate a culture and approaches that protect against the development of eating disorders at multiple levels, including existing whole-of-school eating disorder prevention programs, media literacy programs, inclusion of relevant content or adaptation of potentially problematic content within the curriculum, seeking consultation from eating disorder prevention, identification and early intervention professionals and staff capability building initiatives. Schools can also build their capability to identify and refer young people who they are concerned may have an emerging eating disorder.
Related settings that have been identified as important audiences given their position to influence the food, eating and body experiences of young people include dance schools, gyms, and sporting clubs. While some junior sports (e.g., soccer and netball) and other activities are run by associations, many are run by volunteers making it challenging to access and engage these networks.
Messages for schools and other key settings should:
- Be customised to target these audience groups to ensure that the information is relevant, clear and likely to generate interest and change
- Assist leaders and individuals to recognise their role
- Provide further information about where to learn more
Further information for educational institutions:
Download the NEDC professional resource for teachers and schools - Eating Disorders in Schools: Prevention, Early Intervention and Response
Download the NEDC professional resource for sport and fitness professionals - Eating Disorders in Sport and Fitness: Prevention, Early Intervention and Response
Find further resources for education professionals here
Communicating with health professionals
Health professionals are key to promoting helpful messages about food, bodies and eating, which at times can be counter to broader societal and cultural attitudes and ideals. Communications to health professionals should be clear, invitational and practical.
With clear and practical communication, general practitioners and other health professionals can better identify eating disorders, make a timely referral and support help seeking behaviours. It also supports health professionals and other early identifiers to directly address and avoid promoting any misconceptions about eating disorders, weight stigma and other perspectives that cause distress, shame, stigma, and discrimination.
Further information for health professionals:
Find current programs and resources available for professionals working in the community;
- Find upcoming and self-paced professional development opportunities